December 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This article originally appeared in The Good Men Project.
Proposition: Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I think there is a place for thoughtful engagement over the “clobber passages.”
Yep. The Clobber Passages. Those six (or eight, depending on who you’re talking to) passages in the Bible that appear to “clobber” the idea that God could ever love Gay people just the way they are.
As a liberal and an advocate for full LGBT inclusion in the life of both the church and the culture, I often run into a line of questioning (particularly on Social Media and the comment threads on blog posts I write—oh, the comment threads … boy howdy!) that goes something like this:
“How can you call yourself a Christian and still be for … you know … Gays? Don’t you believe in the Bible?”
To which I respond with as much dignity as I can muster, trying hard not to sound like a third grader: “Can too!”
November 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Social media has taken its place at the cultural table. And if it’s not seated at the head of the table, it’s at the right hand.
Because of the ubiquity of Facebook as a principal means of communication, and because of the relative newness of the medium, the rules of etiquette are in regular need of refinement. As we find our voices in this brave new world, I have a few thoughts about how we might perceive the medium in general, and who we don’t want to be in particular.
My Front Yard
When we lived in Detroit, there was a guy named Bernardo who must have had over one hundred plaster lawn ornaments—statues, columns, figurines. Not that my tastes are particularly refined when it comes to landscape architecture, but the whole thing struck me as rather garish. But it would never occur to me to walk into his yard, march up to his front door, and tell him that he’s an idiot for decorating his yard that way.
I take it as read that my Facebook wall is mine in the same way that my front yard is mine.1 I landscape it the way I want; and I tend to it as often or as little as I want. My tastes might very well not be your tastes.
I see the way other people care for their yards—some of them I appreciate, and others I don’t much care for. But I don’t go into other people’s yards and plant my own signs publicly telling the world how stupid I think this person is for making landscaping choices I wouldn’t make.
Good fences make good neighbors, and all that …
If you want to plant a sign in your own front yard telling the world how messed up my thought processes are when it comes to politics or religion or sports or lasagne making—then by all means, enjoy yourself. You will most likely have to deal with the public opprobrium for appearing to be a lout, at best, or a bully, at worst. But, as I say, it’s your yard.
You’re just not free to plant that sign in my yard.
November 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. It has taken a lifetime of failure to get this miserable. In fact, in the case of the Cubs, it’s taken the lifetimes of my grandfather, my father, and me to get this miserable.
Two years ago, the Cubs hired some boy geniuses, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, with a reputation formed in the crucible of the struggles of the Boston Red Sox. The boy geniuses said that what the Cubs needed was a complete cultural overhaul—a fundamental shift away from hiring expensive free agents to a focus on dismantling the minor league farm system, and rebuilding it. That was the only way, they said, that the Cubs could be perennial contenders.
Epstein and Hoyer said from the outset that the process was going to take time and that it was going to be painful. Cubs fans, they said, should expect some losing years as they retooled a broken system.
And they were right. The Cubs have had the two worst seasons in their history. And it looks like next year doesn’t promise to be much better.
Two losing seasons already, and most likely a third to come, has many fans in Chicago yelling for somebody’s head. You’d think that fans of a team that hasn’t won a championship since before World War I would be able to scrounge up a little patience from somewhere. But many of them are angry.
“It’s taking too long. The geniuses must be doing something wrong if we can’t see the progress we were promised. Something better change quick or we’re going to have to think about going in a new direction.”
With all the writing I do about congregational transformation, I sometimes think I fail to emphasize the difficulty involved in reorienting a congregational (or worse, a denominational) culture. I suspect that I come off sounding sometimes as if there could be nothing easier than whipping a congregation in decline back into shape.
November 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“They want a wilderness with a map.”
Boy, ain’t that the truth? In a world that seems constantly to be shifting beneath our feet, ministers feel that unspoken expectation every time they step into the pulpit.
“They want a wilderness with a map.”
I think that’s why bumper stickers are so popular. There’s a sense that if we could just get a few things nailed-down, if we could just see a few markers that would point us through the briars, through the overgrown brambles, through the violence, and uncertainty, and senselessness of it all, we might somehow survive another day in the wilderness.
Straight-line, discursive speech that tells us where to put our feet next. We all know about preachers only too anxious to give it to them. The sermon as self-help, as moral disquisition, as prosaic orienteering. “I’m okay, you’re okay.”
October 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Minding my own business. That’s all I was doing. A little catching up on social media, when I came across an article about a Colorado pastor, Kevin Swanson, who warned on his radio show that inside of ten years, gay people will likely be burning Christians at the stake — because, you know, that’s how the gays do … at least since Nero.
What really caught my eye, though, was a quote from another person on the show, who suggested (wrongly) that people can be indoctrinated (though he doesn’t say how) into a lifestyle (homosexual) for which the Bible demands “capital punishment.”
I’ll admit that, at first, reading someone make what appears to be a serious claim about the Biblical mandate for icing gay people struck me as over the top at best, and loopy at worst. Would we do it by stoning, or would our Post-Enlightenment sensibilities require a more civilized method … say, electrocution, lethal injection, or firing squad (which can still be done in a modern society, while retaining the small town quaintness prized by folks who tend to listen to radio shows in which groups of otherwise law-abiding people are charged with being pedophiles)?
“But,” I thought, “to their credit, it is in the book.” Well, sort of, anyway. Leviticus 20:13 does talk about putting to death “a man who lays with a male as with a woman”–though, I should be quick to point out that, according to the context of the passage, this is a reference that suggests a prohibition against ritualized temple prostitution, and certainly not the same gender love against which Mr. Swanson and his guest prattle.
Still, unlike many people who oppose homosexuality, these radio folks are consistent. “If the Bible says kill ‘em, then we ought to by-God kill ‘em.” Refreshingly honest, if a bit Medieval.
October 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Lesson #1: How to get a date without being Brad Pitt
Do you remember that kid in high school, the one who wasn’t that good looking, who wasn’t that athletic, who didn’t have a great car, but who always seemed to have a date? Remember that kid? I’d like to say that I hated that kid, but I didn’t.
I liked him myself. He was fun to be around. The reason that kid had so many dates was because he (she, if you happen to remember her—I just happen to rememberhim) wasn’t worried about any of the stuff every other high school kid worries about. Ok. He wasn’t overly worried about any of that stuff. He was comfortable in his own skin.
That guy cared about his own appearance, but he’d made peace with what God gave him. He wasn’t always walking around, looking in the mirror, asking everybody, “Do I look ok?”
“Can you see that zit on my chin? Is it really noticeable?”
“Does my breath stink?”
Adolescence, almost by definition, is that time in life characterized by insecurity, self-consciousness, a constant pursuit of affirmation. To be an adolescent is to be, in a word . . . needy.
And anyone who seems not to be needy stands out. It’s hard not to be attracted to people like that because you quickly get the impression that they don’t need you to give them a sense of identity. That’s a huge burden off your back. Life is tough enough without being surrounded by people who constantly want you to cut their steak. My five year-old needs that.
Two Secrets of Good Leadership: Learning to Live with Other People’s Pain and with Your Own Mistakes
October 14, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Two Keys to Good Leadership
Thesis: You can’t be a good leader until you get comfortable with other people’s pain and with your own mistakes.
Learning to Live with Other People’s Pain
I know about a church that developed some bad habits over the years. They had worked with a paradigm of ministry in which the minister was responsible for virtually everything. If a light bulb burned out in the exit sign, they dropped a note to the minister. When the lady who was supposed to bring the grape jello to Vacation Bible School forgot, everything stopped while they called the minister to let him know. When the garbage cans didn’t get put back, somebody would leave a message on the answering machine to apprise the minister of this crucial oversight.
And, as if by magic, new light bulbs and purple jello would appear. The garbage cans mysteriously found their homes. The minister made sure complaints were addressed and problems were solved. He did most of it himself.
The arrangement suited everybody—the minister had a compelling need to feel needed, and the congregation had a capacious reservoir of need. Everybody wins!
Except when the minister left, the arrangement was no longer viable. Now there was a congregation trained to be needy, but no longer anyone to meet those needs. How do you handle a situation like that?
What will the next minister have to do if she doesn’t want to continue to this co-dependent relationship?
She’s going to have to develop an extraordinarily high tolerance for pain.